It has been well known for quite a while that alcohol use during pregnancy is linked to the risk of birth defects. However, the effects of alcohol consumption on fertility are not as well defined. There are studies looking at spontaneous, or “naturally occurring”, pregnancies which suggest that women who consume high amounts of alcohol were more likely to present with infertility, and that fertility was decreased in those drinking moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol. Interestingly, with respect to alcohol type, data suggests that the time needed to achieve pregnancy was shorter with wine drinkers, unchanged with beer drinking, and variable with respect to liquor consumption. The association between alcohol use in men and male fertility is controversial as well. Some studies do demonstrate a decreased fertility with heavy use, while others did not find any association with decreased fertility with any type or quantity of alcohol consumed.
With respect to alcohol consumption and in vitro fertilization (IVF), there was a study done in the past that showed a decrease in the number of eggs obtained, as well as a nonsignificant decrease in the chance of pregnancy in women who drank excess alcohol. Recently, Dr. Brooke Rossi and colleagues undertook a study at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School to examine the potential effect of alcohol use at the onset of an IVF cycle on the outcomes of the cycle. In this prospective study, men and women completed self-administered questionnaires before the IVF cycle started regarding alcohol type, amount, and frequency consumed. A total of 2,545 couples undergoing 4,729 IVF cycles were included. Forty one percent of women drank one to six drinks per week, whereas 58% of men did. The findings demonstrated that women drinking at least four drinks per week had a statistically significant 16% lower likelihood of having a live birth than those who drank fewer than four drinks per week. In addition, for couples in which both of the partners drank at least 4 drinks per week, the odds of a live birth were a statistically significant 21% lower than when both drank fewer than four drinks per week.
Given the multiple factors associated with optimizing IVF therapy, it is clearly in a patient and/or couple’s best interest to eliminate all potential elements that can have a detrimental effect on a successful outcome. As Dr. Rossi’s study demonstrated a decrease in IVF live birth rate with as few as four alcoholic drinks consumed per week, any patient, female or male alike, should give strong consideration to avoiding this lifestyle factor when starting their IVF treatment. Furthermore, for those who do consume alcoholic beverages, they can simply think of it as looking forward to after their baby is born to celebrating with that glass of wine!